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Shocking Photos Taken Behind-the-Scenes at Puppy Mills

Dogs in their cages at a puppy mill before being rescued. © Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals with the Montreal SPCA

A recently rescued dog receives care. © Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals with the Montreal SPCA

A recently rescued dog receives care. © Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals with the Montreal SPCA

In 2013, photojournalist Jo-Anne McArthur was with the SPCA when they seized approximately 100 dogs from a puppy mill in rural Quebec. After a lifetime of living in confinement, about half a dozen pit bull-type were finally led into the open air. Their tails, once firmly tucked between their legs, started to relax. The rescuers spoke softly and offered their hands for the animals to sniff. Little by little, the wagging began.

McArthur has witnessed animals around the world in inhumane circumstances, and most of the time, there’s nothing she can do except document what she sees. It’s moments like this one— when she sees an animal freed from cruelty— that give her the hope and the energy to continue.

The photographer has accompanied the SPCA and the Humane Society International during multiple puppy mill cases. Sometimes they carried a warrant to remove all the dogs, but there have also been cases when they’ve only been allowed to rescue the weakest and sickest dogs and leave the rest behind.

Dogs in puppy mills live in cages, and though it varies from country-to-country, the law in the United States dictates that the cage must be only six inches wider and longer than the dog. This means that the animals will not even be able to turn around.

In the puppy mills McArthur has seen, it’s also common for a piece of wood to separate the dogs in adjacent cages. The animals are isolated from one another and unable to make eye contact with the dogs next to them, though they can see into the cages directly across.

The female dogs are bred over and over until they can no longer produce babies. At that point, they are sometimes killed or abandoned. Dogs in puppy mills receive little to no medical attention, and puppies and adult dogs die of preventable illnesses.

McArthur met a chihuahua whose entire jaw had “literally rotted away” due to neglect. After a diet of cheap, bad food and no dental care, the tartar on his teeth infected his mandible. “He had no jaw,” the photographer explains.

Something similar happened to Wembley, an eight-year-old poodle who is included in McArthur’s book We Animals. His jawbone was also partially gone. Thanks to the efforts of the Montreal SPCA, Wembley now lives in a warm, loving home.

“These dogs have no friends. They have no allies, so when they learn to trust, that’s really something,” McArthur tells me.

That sentiment is what brings her back to those pit bulls from Quebec. These dogs had never been treated with anything but cruelty, but they still chose to follow their rescuers out of their cages and into an unknown future. They chose to trust, and it was probably the first choice they ever made for themselves.

Unfortunately, some of the puppy mills McArthur has photographed are still in operation. In these cases, it’s possible for the courts to allow them to continue without any consequences. Even the ones who are punished often “only get a slap on the wrist.” They could get probation, or they could be suspended for a few years and start back up again without anything having changed.

Until puppy mills are gone, McArthur will continue to tell the stories of these (often invisible) dogs. “There’s someone in there,” McArthur says, remembering their eyes, “And because there’s someone in there, they deserve to live free from harm.”

There are a few ways we can help stop puppy mills. Choosing to adopt a dog from a shelter or a rescue, instead of buying a dog, is the fool-proof way to avoid puppy mills. Adoption not only grants one dog the gift of a home and a life, but it also protects other dogs from being subjected to cruelty. To protect future generations, McArthur reminds us to spay and neuter our animals. Learn more at the SPCA and HSI.

This post is the fifth in a series of seven stories we will be publishing about photojournalist Jo-Anne McArthur and the We Animals Archive. You can read the first four here, here, here, and here.

Hundreds of pictures from the We Animals Archive are available for free to charitable and educational organizations. The project relies on donations from the public. Make a one-time donation here, and if you’re interested in contributing monthly, you can do so here. Find the book We Animals here, and find McArthur’s new book, Captive, here.

Dogs huddling together in their cage at a puppy mill before being rescued. © Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals with the Montreal SPCA

Dogs in their cages at a puppy mill before being rescued. © Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals with the Montreal SPCA

A dog in a puppy mill cage before being rescued. © Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals with the Montreal SPCA

An SPCA inspector finds the body of a dog who died in the puppy mill. © Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals with the Montreal SPCA

The frozen bodies of dogs who died in the puppy mill discovered by SPCA inspectors. © Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals with the Montreal SPCA

A dog is led out of a puppy mill to receive care. © Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals with the Montreal SPCA

A recently rescued dog receives care. © Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals with the Montreal SPCA

A dog receives care after being rescued from a puppy mill. © Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals with the Montreal SPCA

Newborn puppies receive care after being rescued from a puppy mill. © Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals with the Montreal SPCA

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